Sons are Slippery

I cry during commercials and movies, but I weep at weddings. I can usually hold it together when the bride walks toward her groom, but I officially lose it during the mother/son dance.

As a mother of three sons, I cannot help but imagine myself in that position in the future. In a moment, my mind flashes back through a montage of memories with each of my boys: dancing in the kitchen, watching them ride a bike for the first time, remembering the first time they failed at something significant that broke their heart.

What seemed impossibly far off when they were toddlers toting their blankets becomes more realistic every year. One day, I will send these boys off, not merely to kindergarten or the prom, but to their own future. While they will always be my sons, the intervals between check-ins with their mother have been slowly lengthening. I remember being nervous to leave them for a thirty-minute jog when they were infants. I remember mutual tears at preschool drop-offs. As recently as this year, I cried tears dropping them off for middle school.

Sometimes I want to cling to them, to try to clutch them too close, to corral them in realms I can control. But the best way to hold these boys of mine is with one hand tightly holding the Lord and one hand loosely holding them.

Seamus Heaney’s poem Mother of the Groom perfectly captures the slipperiness of sons. While I don’t know if the Lord has marriage in store for my boys, this poem captures a mother’s heart and the slippery nature of sons well.

“What she remembers
Is his glistening back
In the bath, his small boots
In the ring of boots at her feet.

Hands in her voided lap,
She hears a daughter welcomed.
It’s as if he kicked when liften
And slipped her soapy hold.

Once soap would ease off
The wedding ring
That’s bedded forever now
In her clapping hand.”*

Heaney’s mention of a voided lap and her clapping hands reminds me that there is joy in every season. My older boys have long since vacated my lap. Their disproportionately growing feet barely fit in my lap these days. But they will never vacate my heart. And, as one who has hope in the Lord, I can smile and even clap at the future (Proverbs 31: 25).

Photo by Vytis Gruzdys on Unsplash

For this season, God has entrusted these boys to me. These days are slipping by and these boys of mine are growing increasingly slippery. But the Lord who has entrusted them to me has a love that is steady and sure. To teach them to stand firm in him is one of the highest calls on my life.

I don’t want to pitter away these precious days filled with sweaty socks and deepening voices and constant snacking. I don’t want to miss the fleeting moments that happen as we drive to school or on our occasional hikes. I want to bottle them up and treasure them in my heart.

As I raise them, I have to fight the urge to place my deepest identity in mothering. Such an ill-founded identity will fail them as quickly as it will fail me. My deepest identity must be found in being the beloved of the Lord, the daughter of the Perfect Father, the dwelling place of the brooding-like-a-mother Holy Spirit. As I fight for this identity, my prayer is that it would bleed into their own.

Then, when my lap and these bunk beds are voided, I will still have a lifetime of being siblings in Christ with these slippery sons of mine.

*Seamus Heaney. Opened Ground. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998, 66.

The Art of Releasing

I should have slept well last night. My body was tired, but my mind was running a marathon. I have known all this was coming, but somehow I feel surprised as reality sinks in. So much change. So much to be released. A father-in-law languishing, only half-lingering on earth. A teenage son being sent into a huge high school in a few days. A youngest son shedding the last few layers of boyhood. 

I’ve never been described as graceful (in fact, I am most often described as intense) – so it should not surprise me that my acts of releasing tend to be more awkward and jerky than elegant and smooth. Thankfully, like most things, releasing is a slowly-learned art which means that there is great room for improvement as the frequency of releasing increases. 

Henri Nouwen has been leading me in learning the art of the releasing. He spent many months of his life following The Flying Rodleighs, a trapeze troupe that grabbed his attention at a circus he attended with his father. As such, he learned up close the twin arts of catching and releasing. He was shocked to see how many hours of practice it took to create an elegant act that only lasted minutes. In an interview with the catcher, Nouwen learned that the secret of the flier lies in the catcher. 

“The flyer gets all the attention, but their lives depend on the catcher! I don’t want the applause, I like what I am doing, and I have to give it all I’ve got.” 

If I trust in human readiness, I will never release. No one is ever fully ready to die, nor is a teenager ever fully ready for the complexity of adolescence. And goodness knows that this momma’s heart will never be fully ready to let go of these babies-turned-boys-becoming men. But release is less about our readiness and more about the reliability of the catcher. And the scarred hands that catch them all have been through death and back to prove their reliability. 

In the act of releasing, it is easy to be distracted and overwhelmed by the height of the jump, the potential for falling, and the hundred moving parts surrounding the release; however, the main job of the releaser is to keep eyes locked on the catcher who does most of the work. 

Releasing is about joyfully learning to let God, the catcher, have his way. It is about fighting to remember that He is good and does good (Psalm 119:68). 

“The Lord is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works” (Psalm 145:13-17). 

Releasing is about remembering that all his paths towards us are laced with lovingkindness (Psalm 25:10) and that the footpaths upon which he leads us drip with his faithfulness (Psalm 65:11).

Releasing is about learning to calibrate my faith by the stability and sureness of the catcher rather than by the instability of my circumstances and my own inability. 

The beauty happens in the space between the bars, and my catcher is more sure than the rising of the sun. As such, I can lean into the art of releasing despite all my fears and foibles. I have a lot of releasing to do, but, thankfully, I have a God who delights to catch his people.

Sweet & Sore: Thoughts on Kingdom Goodbyes

Our Christmas cards still hang on an often-seen door in our home. And it is not because I am that tardy on putting decorations away. It is because those Christmas cards are worth so much more than the cardstock on which they are printed; they represent a web of kingdom relationships that stretch all over the world.

Kingdom living assumes that life will be a series of sweet and sore goodbyes. I don’t know how I missed it for so many years of reading the Scriptures. Perhaps I just scanned through the beginnings and ends of most of the epistles, assuming they were merely introductions and conclusions. Perhaps I was naive enough to think that relationships remained relatively stable for adults and churches. Either way, it has taken me a few decades of ministry and kingdom partnerships to realize that great love opens us up to (temporary) great loss.

Sweet & Sore

Underneath and preceding the epistles were webs of human relationships held together by the person and work of Christ. These significant gospel relationships in the early church compelled the Spirit-inspired writing of much of the New Testament . Apostles wrote to congregations peopled with those whom they either knew dearly or longed to know dearly. When Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians, he had in mind Lydia whom he had met by the river, the jailer whose hide he saved in such a way that he was truly saved, and the formerly demon-possessed girl whom he had helped free (see Acts 16).

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, his heart swelled with sentiments and prayers for the congregation with whom he had spent the longest time on his many missionary journeys. It is clear through the tears recorded in Acts 20 that the parting of Paul and the elders of the Ephesian church was a painful yet purposed parting. When John wrote letters from the island of Patmos, he likely had specific faces and families, conversations and converts, relationships and real-life memories in mind.

Kingdom living is an invitation to love people deeply and hold them loosely. My military friends have taught me so much about kingdom living because, more than most civilians, they understand concepts that are necessary to living as elect exiles on this earth. Like the Roman centurion who approached Jesus about the healing of his beloved servant, military families understand what it means to live life under a greater authority (Matthew 8:5-13). When the powers that be say move, they move, whether it feels natural or not. Due to their constantly receiving new orders, those in the military learn to love deeply, growing deep roots, even when they know they will be repotted. I am fighting to learn from them, but my heart shrinks back from relationships when I know that deep love can and often will lead to what feels like great loss.

This summer we have sent out multiple sets of friends who are far more than friends. These are the kind of people who can read your soul with one quick glance. Having done so much life and ministry together, we finish each other’s stories and sentences. There is no need to back-fill stories since we have spent decades in the trenches of life and ministry together. Goodbyes like these tempt me to harden my heart, but they also remind me that a Good God prepares and empowers us for this kind of kingdom living.

The Pierced Hand that Parts Our Ways

The hopeful hellos and the gripping goodbyes we experience as believers on this side of the New Heavens and the New Earth are not haphazard. Behind the coming and going and the pairing and parting is our Triune God. God, the Father, providentially postures and positions his people for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28-32). Jesus, the Son, parts us with pierced hands and a burning heart, knowing full well the weight of human goodbyes. He who knew the joy and awkwardness of introductions (read the calling of the disciples) also knew the tearful, tearing pain of parting (read the parting words of Jesus to his cronies in the Upper Room). The Jesus who bids us part ways with people and places we have grown to love knew the searing pain of leaving his mother in the care of his best friend from the Cross (John 19:26-27). God, the Holy Spirit, translates our unintelligible sighs at parting into prayers of purpose (Romans 8:26-27). He reminds us of what is true and buttresses our faith for the future with recollections of God’s past faithfulness.

While the world frowns upon the ordering of authority, we know that God’s thoughtful and perfect ordering of His people is a gift and a mark of ownership. In a letter to a friend, Amy Carmichael wrote, “It gives a peculiar sort of confidence that even we – we who are nothings – are being ‘ordered’ in our goings. It is very good to be ‘ordered’ by our beloved Lord.”

The Ultimate Reunion

Kingdom goodbyes lift our eyes from our temporal habitats to our ultimate home. Like a river whose streams unite and split, unite and split, unite and split until they reach their final destination, kingdom relationships move with purpose to a clear and everlasting end. From this perspective, the goodbyes we say to those whom we love and with whom we have worked as gospel partners are necessary steps toward a deeply desired end. Our goodbyes enable God’s glory to spread further and deeper to new people and places. Though the spaces between the streams may have spread, the ultimate destination is the same.

And what a destination it is! We get to work towards and wait upon the day we will dine at the marriage supper of the Lamb together. And, oh, the stories we will share and the remarkable faithfulness we will remember from our different stations and seasons. Until that day, let us continue to love deeply and hold loosely as those lovingly ordered by our agape authority!

Hefted like a Herdwick

I love reading about both vocation and location. In a world that is increasingly full of generalists and largely globalized into a strange digital sense of sameness, learning about people who are experts in one job and/or one place is refreshing. Reading about their place and their task strangely resharpens and refocuses me on my own place and my own task even if they are quite literally world away.

Providentially, I picked up a book that caught my eye at the used book sale: The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. Written by a shepherd from the Lake District of England, the book captured my imagination from the start. After being introduced to the area and the arduous work of shepherding Herdwick sheep on the fells (which means craggy hills, it seems) It is not hard to understand why the author chose to return to them after being the rare shepherd’s son who received an Oxford education.

In addition to exacerbating my desire to visit England, the book left me briefly wondering if I should try my hand at farming. But then I realized that I can barely keep my succulents alive in one of the sunniest climates in that States and struggle to herd my three children on the daily. Ultimately, the book led me to deeper intimacy with my own shepherd even though the author did not likely intend such an outcome.

Hefted Sheep

The book begins with an introduction to a shepherding term: hefted. In its noun form, a heft is a piece of upland pasture to which an animal has been hefted (which doesn’t help much if you don’t know what hefted means). In its adjectival form, hefted describes a sheep that has become accustomed and attached to a particular area of upland pasture.

In non-shepherd terms, the sheep don’t need to be fenced on these hills which are common land. Though there are no barriers or barricades, the sheep don’t want to leave their particular pasture and place. Rebanks explains hefting in the following manner:

“Beyond our common lies other undenied areas of mountain land, other fells, farmed by other commoners, so in theory our sheep could wander right across the Lake District. But they don’t because they know their place on the mountains. They are ‘hefted,’ taught their sense of belonging by their mothers as lambs- an unbroken chain of learning that goes back thousands of years.”

Essentially, hefted is another way to say these sheep have found their deepest and preferred home. This seems strange, especially when you realize that the fells to which they are hefted are not an easy-living environment. In fact, the Northern Lake District fells are extreme pastures with harsh winters, which leads me to the next point.

Herdwick Sheep

My knowledge of sheep reaches to the level of the average preschooler. They say bah. They start out white. They get dirty. We get wool from them. They are not the brightest of animals, thus they need the near-constant care of a shepherd.

But, as I learned from the book, not all sheep are created (or should I say bred?) equally. Herdwick sheep are a prized commodity among shepherds in England because of their hardiness which has been passed on for thousands upon years. Having wintered within their mothers in the biting weather on the harsh landscape of the fells, the lambs become tough cookies. If they can survive the fells, they can thrive on any other pasture in England, thus, explaining their place as a prized stock. Those who shepherd Herdwick sheep take great pride in their choice flocks largely because they have taken great pains to keep them alive, constantly caring for them and thinking for their welfare.

Below, Rebanks describes the importance of the winters in raising a true Herdwick sheep:

“These cold, hard, wet weeks are when Herdwicks come into their own. Few other breeds would survive the winter here carrying their lambs in their bellies…the bond between shepherd and flock is formed in these cruel months.”

As I read about this prestigious breed of plucky sheep, I found myself praying that God would shepherd me and our flock to be like them.

Hefted to the Good Shepherd

The more I read about the incredibly monotonous and grueling yet deeply thoughtful and considerate work of being a shepherd, the more I found myself worshipping the One who is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:1-18). God could have chosen someone from nearly any vocation to replace the apostate King Saul, but he chose a shepherd boy. David, who knew the sobering and strenuous work of shepherding, brought that knowledge into the task of leading God’s people (1 Samuel 17: 31-37). The Scriptures, from the Old Testament all the way through the New, are laced with shepherd and sheep language describing God’s interactions with his people (Isaiah 40:11;Isaiah 53:6-7; 1 Peter 2:21-25).

Rebanks’s detailed descriptions of caring for his flock included his waking up early with the sheep chief on his mind and not stopping to pause until all their needs had been met and ailments addressed. I found his three rules of shepherding helpful as I seek to be a spiritual shepherdess to our own little flock:

“First rule of shepherding: it’s not about you, it’s about the sheep and the land. 
Second rule: you can’t win sometimes. 
Third rule: shut up, and go and do the work.”

However, I could not help but contrast his rules with our perfect Shepherd who always wins and has already done all the work. While my prayers for myself and my flock have not changed, they have deepened and grown more descriptive. I want us to be like a Herdwick flock, only I want us to be hefted not to a particular place, but to a particular person: the person of Christ who is our Perfect Shepherd.

The Transition to Teens: Showing Hospitality to the Strangers in Your Own Home

As a family, we are committed to practicing hospitality. This does not look like a Pinterest-inspired meal with neatly-folded napkins and elaborate, earthy centerpieces. It looks like a commitment to make space for the other and to seek to see the stranger and the alien in our midst. It takes effort and intentionality. It often causes stress and stretches us. But it is worth it because God is worthy.

As those who have been recipients of the hospitable God who makes space for us to such a degree that he actually stepped into space to save us, we reflect his image even in our shoddy attempts at showing hospitality to others. God’s word commands it, and his love compels it.

I thought I had been stretched appropriately in this arena; however, lately, I have been learning a new form of hospitality: making space and room for the resident aliens in my own home (our teenagers).

Resident Aliens

Teenagers are strangers, even to themselves. Outside of their initial growth as babies, at no other time are they changing, growing, and stretching so much (physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally). It helps me to remember this God-ordained reality when the boys with whom I have shared my heart and my home for fourteen and fifteen years suddenly seem like an alien species. Their voices are different, the synapses in their brain are being re-circuited, and hormones are rising like sudden tsunamis that neither of us expect.

Their interests are changing (sometimes daily), and that often leaves me feeling like I’m lost without a map in uncharted territory. As soon as I get my mind around being a skater-mom and start to understand skateboard brands, they have moved on to surfing or videography. I knew that the teenaged-years would be a transition for them, but I don’t think I knew it would be such a transition for me as well.

I find myself continually grateful that Jesus lived through this phase himself, thereby acknowledging and sanctifying these years. I find myself in places of deeper dependence upon prayer than I have since those early newborn days. I am having to keep shorter accounts. I am daily confessing my idols of control and facing my own insufficiency. In fact, the pages of my Bible are growing thin in a few places.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:8-9).

Peter challenged the early church to remain fervent or earnest in their love for one another, knowing that they would need God’s abundant love to cover a multitude of sins, mistakes, and missteps in their attempt to do so. The Greek word, ektenés, translated earnest or fervent, literally means “stretched out fully” and is the root word for the English terms “tense” and “tension.”

I am so thankful that Peter chose to use this word, as it aptly describes the tension and the strain involved in loving one another earnestly and showing hospitality to one another, even to the ones who live in our homes. These verses leave me clinging to another verse:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

A Delicate Dance

Teenagers need both space and presence. Loving my teenaged boys looks like a delicate dance with lots of stepping on toes, apologies, and tearful conversations on both sides. But it is an incredible dance that leads me to both dependence and delight.

Our Dance

I struggle to get the spacing right
As we learn a new kind of dance. 
I loved our past choreography-
Its simple steps, your typical glance. 

There’s a depth now to your eyes,
Matching the mystery in your soul. 
We still move in a partnership, 
But I’m a bit unsure of my role. 

You keep growing and changing,
Finding your own tempo and pace.
Balancing proximity and distance 
Requires great measures of grace.

I’m learning to let you lead, son.
You are learning you know how,
We’re both preparing for a future 
When another will kiss your brow. 

The dance isn’t always graceful;
We’ll step on an occasional toe. 
But know it’s my distinct delight
 To dance with you as you grow.  

These resident aliens are keeping me on my toes and on my knees. What a privilege it is that God would entrust them to me.

Lessons from the Border

Our first mission trip as a family was an assault on the senses. We took in so much in such a short amount of time while moving at such a dizzying rate that I am just beginning to prayerfully process nearly a week later. Two particular images keep coming to my heart and mind: the tidiness of a tent city and the cartwheeling son of a fire-breather.

The Tidiness of a Tent City

Our first full day in Tijuana, we went to serve at a shelter for those seeking asylum in the United States (currently waiting at the border). When we parked the car, I was overwhelmed by the dirt, feces, and subsequent flies in the street. I held my son’s hand tightly as if to protect him from all he was seeing for the first time. Thus, you can imagine my shock when we walked into the semi-open-air shelter of corrugated metal to see a tidy little city of well-kept tents. The place was immaculate by any standards, but especially considering the fact that over one-hundred-fifty women and children were living in such a small space.

The families living in the shelter seemed to take great pride in the fact that they were among the lucky few who had shelter, food, and bathroom access for three months. As we were playing with the children, I even found myself feeling something like jealousy at the kind of community they had become. The children acted like siblings to each other, and the adults stepped in to love, direct, and even correct the children, even those who were not their own.

Having so little, they had a vibrant, generous, ordered community life that few Americans experience though they have so much. We gave them medicine, but they gave us the better medicine of a joyful heart despite jarring circumstances (Proverbs 17:22). Those tidy tents taught me a thing or twenty about community, gratitude, and grace.

The Cartwheeling Son of a Fire-Breather

We all know the statement that truth is often stranger than fiction, but it can also be sadder. After three incredibly long days of helping put on multiple medical clinics, our crew loaded up in our over-filled car to head back home. We anticipated the long wait time at the border and I thought we were accustomed to the things we would see as we waited, but I did not anticipate the way one of the side-acts would since take center-stage in my mind.

As we were waiting in the long, slow lines of traffic, my eyes were drawn to a father and his two sons. Leaving the younger child in the stroller, he stopped and began a fire-breathing act along the barricade. While the fire-breathing tricks initially did their job in grabbing my attention, the son of the fire-breather stole my heart. Seeking to help his father earn some change, he began doing some unbalanced and unpolished cartwheels and handstands of his own.

At the time, I catalogued this act along with countless others who were performing songs, playing guitars, and selling their wares. But this one was different, as the Lord would continually bring it back to mind and memory.

As many times as I have read or taught on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, you would have thought I would not have missed the moment. But I did. I fell right into the role of the priest: “Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31). We are usually quick to assume the worst about the priest, but it is likely he had been serving all day, fulfilling his priestly duties, and meeting needs in sacrificial ways. Having “clocked out,” and being wearied from service, few would fault him with following convention and tradition to avoid an unclean situation with someone who was not even among his flock. But he missed it. He missed his chance to see and experience and become more like the Savior whose coming he eagerly sought. And I did the same.

Cartwheeling Son of a Fire-breather

Cart-wheeling son of a fire-breather,
As you did your tricks, I turned away.
I tried not to notice your plight,
Yet you come to mind everyday.

Your earnest, eager desire to please,
To add to your dad’s dangerous show
As if your life depended upon it
Shakes all that I think I know.

Tired from serving, I sat and watched,
But now, I wish I had run –
Through traffic, past convention –
To point you to God’s Son.

You don’t have to grab his attention;
You live always under His sight.
And, unlike me, his broken servant,
He never turns away from your plight.

I don’t want to keep being the priest who missed his moment with the Lord he served. I want to have eyes wide-open to encounters with the Christ who in the words of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “plays in ten thousand places/ Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/ To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

I don’t want to be led by convention or convenience. I want to be compelled and controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

A Declaration of Dependence

I am incredibly grateful for and deeply benefit from the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson; however, my soul needs to be stamped with deeper declaration daily: a declaration of dependence.

My flesh recoils against such a declaration, but my soul was sewn with its principles. I go against the grain of universe when I try to defy it, yet I wonder why I am left splintered and sore.

  • I am a dignified derivative, I was never meant to exist alone (Genesis 1:27-28). As a sentient being made in the image of a Trinitarian God, my soul craves relationship, most notably with the relational God out of whose fullness I was born. 
  • I cannot love myself or accept myself without reference to God. To do so is to love a lesser self and accept that which is unacceptable. When I love sin, I hate and hurt myself (Proverbs 8:36; Psalm 16:4; James 1:14-15). Even though sin overpromises fulfillment, it delivers only death and addiction (John 10:10). Therefore, the only way to truly love myself is to hate my sin. But I cannot do that, try as I may. I am desperately needy and sick, and I cannot earn my way out of this state (Romans 7:21-24). 
  • As prone as I am to performance, I do not trick the one who sees all things. My soul and thoughts are laid bare before him, the one to whom I must give account (Hebrews 4:12-13). Soul audits only confirm and deepen my diagnosis (Isaiah 1:2-6). 
  • I am more entrepeneurial and creative in devising ways to glorify myself and expand my own kingdom than I am in seeking to worship and glorify the only One who is worthy (Hosea 8:11-12). I am more resolute at running after lifeless idols than I am at following the One living God (Hosea 2:5; Hosea 11:2; Hosea 11:7).   
  • Yet, all these hard-to-admit realities are meant to lead me to Life. Only when I see them in all their hideousness can I find the life that is truly life (Galatians 3:24). In coming to the end of myself and my own resources, I stand at the shores of grace and find oceans of undeserved favor. 

For, the only uncreated One became dependent on my behalf (John 1). Though I hated him, he loved me  (Romans 5:6-8). Though I loved the sin that hurt me, he let himself be harmed and hung on a tree to love me (2 Corinthians 5:21;1 Peter 2:24). 

  • Now, I am able to work from my deepest identity rather than work toward it (Philippians 2:12-13). 
  • What I used to think a solid foundation for life (success, significance, comfort, approval, etc…) are exposed for the shifting sands that they are (Matthew 7:24-27). I don’t have to chase after them anymore through everyone around me and the remnant of flesh within me urge me to do so. In a world that says chase your dreams, I am invited to chase after righteousness (Matthew 6:33). 
  • I don’t have to expend myself climbing the ladder of success, because the most successful One climbed down from heaven to bring me up to him (Ephesians 4:10; Philippians 2:5-11). I don’t have to force my way, because I know that He will have his way in me (Job 42:2).
  • My own needs, though real and significant, no longer have to dictate my every action. I can entrust them to Him who delights to give me all good things (Luke 12:32; Romans 8:32). There is now space in my heart to join Christ in his sufferings and apply his sacrifices to the lives of those around me (Colossians 1:24; Philippians 1:29). 
  • In a world obsessed with power and beauty, I am free to be vulnerable and weak (2 Corinthians 12:9). In a world obsessed with prestige and honor, I can sit securely in the low seat because I know my high place in his sight (Luke 14:7-11). In a world obsessed with the big and quick, I can do little things with great love and sow to the Spirit patiently knowing that, in due season, a harvest of righteousness will be reaped (Luke 16:10; Galatians 6: 7-10).
  • I will forget this entire declaration on every day that ends in -Y. But he will not forget me (Isaiah 49:15-16; Hosea 11:8-9). He is patient with me and promises to complete what he has begun (Philippians 1:6). 

It may not be as beautiful as Jefferson’s parchment, but its truths are far more potent. While Jefferson’s declaration initiated a nation, the declarations of dependence found in God’s Word establish an unshakeable kingdom.

The Best Ten Minutes of My Week

Scott Van Pelt does a segment on his sportscasting show called “The Best Thing I Saw Today.” If I were to have a church planting show (which would be weird) I would have a segment called “The Best Ten Minutes of My Week.” Only it would not change, as the best thing that happens every week has been the same since the beginning of our baby church a year ago.

It may not seem like much to an outsider looking in. It definitely doesn’t start in a fancy manner. In fact, it starts with an early morning trip to a neighborhood grocery store. The receipt simply shows a loaf of fresh bread and a plastic jug of grape juice. But, even as I pour the juice into tiny plastic cups, I get excited for what will come.

We are a small, but growing church of around fifty adults weekly (and a slew of precious kids and teens). We worship in a borrowed space. Often our sound system does not work right. One time our baptismal leaked into the basement. There is usually something to giggle about after the service. But every week, after we hear the Word opened up and are carefully pointed to Jesus, we line up for a family meal. Thus begins the best ten minutes of my week.

There is no hiding in a small church plant. We know each other, which means we know each other’s beauty and the brokenness. We enjoy each other’s gifts and often experience each other’s besetting sins. But as our people line up to receive the bread and the “wine,” I am brought to tears each week.

I watch as my husband and our co-pastor offer a personal blessing to each of our flock. I watch downcast eyes and dispositions change as our people are reminded of the truths of the gospel. I watch them eagerly receive a piece of simple bread (sometimes too large a piece when my hubs is handing out the elements) because they know they are starving for the grace and strength that only Christ can provide. I watch my husband offer his children the bread of life as a peer and sibling in the Lord. I watch our two pastors humbly offer each other the bread and “wine” that they both so desperately need.

We line up to receive and remember and reenact (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

And in those few moments in the family meal, I temporarily forget all the work of rearranging chairs and making coffee and cleaning bathrooms. People are hungry to hear the truth, not only those who know and forget and know and forget, but those who have not yet known. I need to eat this bread and drink this cup with these people. Every week. This is why we are working alongside Jesus as he establishes this local flock.

Greater than the miracle of manna in the wilderness is the reality of God’s love displayed on the Cross. Better than meat delivered by ravens is the Spirit’s delivery of the Scriptures to hungry hearts.

Madeline L’Engle introduced me to two powerful lines from a Conrad Aiken poem entitled “Bread and Music”:

“Music I heard with you was more than music, 
And bread I broke with you was more than bread;”

Those lines perfectly capture our experience Sunday by Sunday. Bread eaten with this flock is more than bread, not because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus has already done.

Our ten-minute meal fuels us for the week ahead where we will fumble through our days attempting faithfulness. Our ten-minute meal gives us a taste of the abundant love we will need to remember if we are to cover over each other’s faults and foibles in the coming few days (1 Peter 4:8). Our ten-minute meal levels the classes and divisions that the world will use to categorize us as soon as we walk out the doors. It makes us siblings and peers at the table of our impartial heavenly Father.

Every week in this church planting adventure there are unexpected hurdles or hard conversations or heavy burdens. But those only make me more eager for the joy I expect for the best ten minutes of my week.

Let Loneliness Lead You to the Faithful Friend

Underneath the noisy newsfeeds and behind the flowery photo opps with lovely lattes, many women are living what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.” I know this because I feel it myself, and I regularly hang out with women who share the same sentiments. Beneath the busy schedules and surface relationships, many women are starving for authentic friendships.

When Mother Teresa visited the affluent Western world, she was wise enough to make the following observation:

“In the developed countries, there is a poverty of intimacy, a poverty of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness in the world today than that one.”

The Long Loneliness

Dorothy Day who helped found the Catholic Workers Movement and lived faithfully among the poor and working classes had her own sense of poverty: a relational one. As a single mother and as an ordinary believer living in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God, she experienced what she called “the long loneliness” all of her life.

I love that phrase because it honestly depicts an ongoing struggle with feeling alone or never fully known or at ease. We all experience it though to differing degrees and in differing seasonal lengths. As an introvert who does ministry, I feel loneliness both acutely and chronically. Usually when the creeping sense of sadness and aloneness starts to creep in, I try to busy myself to avoid it. Fill the schedule. Work on a project. Read a new book. Get things done.

But as I age, I am learning to lean into loneliness even though it feels scary and vulnerable. For loneliness is a costly invitation to walk more deeply towards our faithful friend, Christ.

Long More, Not Less

I used to deal with unfilled longings like Whack-a-Mole. When one came up, I immediately sought to shove it down and pretend it never showed itself. But this approach to longing and life is more Buddhist than Christian. Desires, as much as they may cause us to ache, remind us that our hearts are made for far more than even the best this earth has to offer us. Piercing desires are homing devices that keep us aligned with our true North and help get us back to our eternal nest.

As such, I am learning to sit in the loneliness I sometimes feel. In the moment, I am learning how to drag such seemingly unmentionable hungers to the throne room and tell God honesty what I feel. I love how Robert Hugh Benson, a spiritual writer from the early 20th century, captured Christ’s desire for our honesty:

“As our God he knows every fiber of the being which he has made; as our Savior he knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from his obedience; but, as our friend, he waits for us to tell him.”

I tell him how alone and unseen I feel. I’ve done that for a while. But lately, I have also been honest enough to express my frustration and lack of faith to him as the One who could ultimately fix these feelings but, lovingly and patiently, lets them persist. I bring my wrestling with him to him, and he listens. In my complaining about lack of kindred friends, he shows himself to be the epitome of a faithful friend. What a gracious friend we have in him! What a wonder!

Long in the Light

While I have always been comfortable being honest with God, being vulnerable with people has been a slowly-acquired skill for me. To even let my precious, trustworthy husband of sixteen years into the battles of my brain and the howling of my heart takes effort and courage. I often can’t do it until I am so tired and needy that I have no choice. I usually wait until we are both about to fall asleep because its takes me all day to gather the strength to be so exposed. But over the years, the time it takes to drag my longings into the light has shortened. I am beginning to wonder if this should be a more real measure of maturity than a sanitized, sacrosanct soul.

When we walk in the light, others open up about their longings. This does not mean we seek to meet each other’s longings or fix them (though often our reflex will be to try to do so), it simply means that we validate those longings and point each other to the One who will meet them all, whether sooner or later. I love how Henri Nouwen (another brave struggler with long loneliness) captures it, “It is in the intimate fellowship of the weak that love is born.”

Long for the Faithful Friend

God is such a good and faithful friend to us that he has given us ready-made language to express the deepest, most seemingly unutterable desires of our hearts. In the Psalms, our dearest, most faithful friend has provided prompts to help us share vulnerably in the safety of his sheltering presence.

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:14).

There are literally innumerable reasons to praise God since he is inexhaustible in both the quality and quantity of his goodness. But lately, I have found myself camped out in the reality that the God of the universe would call us friends (John 12:15-16).

May this short poem from the book The Friendship of Christ by Robert Hugh Benson remind you of the faithful friend you have in Christ this morning and for eternal mornings.

“He is as good as he is great.
His love is as ardent as it is true.
He is as lavish of his promises as he is faithful in keeping them.
He is as jealous of my love as he is deserving of it.
I am in all things his debtor, but he bids me call him friend.”

The Inflation We Tend to Encourage

I’m not usually one to keep up with economic trends like inflation, largely because I don’t fully understand it. However, even as someone who is accustomed to exorbitantly high West Coast gas prices, the cost of filling my car with gas is something I can no longer ignore.

I may not understand inflation, but I sure am discouraged by it. All this inflation talk has had me thinking about the kind of inflation we tend to encourage: the inflation of earthly knowledge.

We live in an age of competing knowledge where armchair experts claim to know better than everyone else. We love to clean on phrases like “Clinically-proven” and “Studies have shown.” In our day and age, people tend to wield knowledge like a weapon, using statistics, studies, and even sometimes sermons to try to decimate intellectual sparring partners.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowledge and always have. I take great joy in learning and teaching all kinds of things. And I hope that I have passed such a passion for learning on to my children. But knowledge (not even knowledge of spiritual things) is not the end all be all; being known by God is. There are plenty of people with parades of accolades after their names who have knowledge but are not known by God and growing to know him more.

When writing to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul addresses a sinful inflation that comes from thinking we have superior knowledge to others.

“This knowledge puffs up but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3).

Through James, the Scriptures offer us a similar plumb line or a standard against which to measure our knowledge. Writing to believers in the early church, he draws a clear distinction between wisdom from above and earthly wisdom.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:13-18).

I memorized this in college when I was first beginning to try to kill the monstrous idol of academic pride I had fed my entire life up until that point. I borrowed David’s prayer for truth in the inner parts and wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51: 6) . I sought to trade my prideful, noisy knowledge that wanted to make itself known to the watching world for the kind of knowledge that can rest quietly and peacefully in the heart of one has wisdom (Proverbs 14:33).

Earthly wisdom puffs up self, creating swollen, easily-inflated (and equally-easily-deflated) egos, whereas godly wisdom builds up others. Our culture and our flesh flaunt the former and shun the latter. In fact, the Greek word that Paul used while writing to the Corinthian church about earthly knowledge, phusioó, literally means to over-inflate by blowing or to cause to swell up. Scripture juxtaposes such breathing which swells up with the wisdom that comes from the pneuma or breath of the Holy Spirit. Such wisdom sustains and fills us, but not so that we think more highly of ourselves but, rather, so that we think more rightly about God, self, and others.

Earlier in the same letter to the puffed-up Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul clearly equated the person of Christ with the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 8:24). Drawing out this reality, the Apostle Paul further explained to these contentious believers that it made no sense to boast in men or the wisdom of men when you have all things already resting in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21). I wish I did not find so much of the Corinthian church in and around me, but I struggle similarly to them still.

Tomorrow night, we are headed to an academic awards night for our eighth grader. ‘Tis the season. But I find myself praying desperately that he and our entire family (beginning with me) would be marked by true wisdom that can only come down from above. Like most things in God’s kingdom, such wisdom is not gained by granted as gift to those with space. The only need for such wisdom is to be deeply aware of our need for authentic wisdom and deeply suspicious of its cultural counterfeits.

I am fighting to be weary of all inflation, not only the economic kind but also the academic kind. Our wallets may deflate a bit each day due to inflation, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can encouraged and appropriately filled with the kind of knowledge that does not inflate self but rather builds up others.